Ask Charlotte: “Self-publish versus traditional”

“Dear Charlotte,

I am a struggling writer. Struggling in the sense that I have four finished novels on my computer, and a whole pile of rejection letters sat in my drawer. I just can’t get a break! A friend of mine suggested that I sod the rejections and publish it myself. It looks simple enough with KDP and Smashwords. 

I noticed that you have previously self-published a novel, and have two traditionally printed books as well. Which did you prefer? Would you self-publish again? WHAT SHOULD I DO??



Dear Conflicted,

First off – I completely sympathise. Any traditionally published author who says they haven’t had a rejection letter is either lying, or has serious connections in the industry. I’ve had more than I care to count or remember, although I have kept my very first one as a grounding point. When I’m a big, multi-selling, famous author, I’ll be able to look at the letter and remind myself where my feet belong. So please, don’t take those rejections personally.

I haven’t read anything you’ve written (obviously) so couldn’t say whether those rejections are justified or not. But they probably are – even if it’s only that the agent / publisher was swamped with work and simply didn’t have the time to take on another piece. So my first point would be to re-visit your work before even considering self-publishing.

If you are willing to do the hard work and spend the money, then by all means self-publish. I know a few people who have done it and done really well. But it takes a lot more than blood, sweat, tears, and an ever-decreasing bank account. And that is why I failed at self-publishing. Okay, so I sold quite a few books, but there is a very good reason it is no longer available. In fact, if I could go back four years, I’d tell myself to stop, put it to one side, and try something else.

Traditional publishing, however, comes with heartbreak. You lose control over the final decisions such as editing, book covers, pricing etc. and you still have to do your own marketing and PR. Okay, so you don’t have to pay anything for it, apart from buying copies of your book, but that’s about it. Saying that, I do prefer traditional printing and allowing my publishers to have that control because… well… I’m lazy.

I’m a creative person and enjoy hashing book covers together, but for the rest of it, I just can’t be bothered. Or I’m too tight-fisted. Nobody should ever edit their own book, so if you do decided to self-publish, make sure you hire an independent, unbiased, professional editor; NOT a friend or family member – a complete stranger. Give out a couple of PDFs to independent Beta readers (you can find these for free on social media) and grab their opinions. If you’re creative, attempt to jacket design, but make sure you own the copyright of any pictures you use. But Google “bad book covers” first and get an idea of what to avoid. Then you have advertising, marketing… The list is endless. If you have a good network within the industry, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if (like me, when I self-published) you know nobody except a few freelancers, then I’d suggest you pay for a professional marketing expert. Even as a traditionally published author, I’ve still sought the advice of a publicist.

If this sounds like too much hard work, then I’d stick with traditional publishing, in which case you really do need to take a second look at your work. You can still hire beta-readers and editors to give you their opinion. And don’t just send your submissions to the Big Name agents and publishers. Hit the smaller, independent ones as well – this is where I’ve had success. You can always send to a bigger name at a later date.

Sorry that I’ve not been all that much help, but you need to write a list of pros and cons for both, do your research, and decide how much work you’re realistically willing to put into publishing a book.



3 thoughts on “Ask Charlotte: “Self-publish versus traditional”

  1. I saw a cartoon once showing a lady standing before four people sitting behind a table in a bookstore. One said “yes, I’m And, this is my ghost writer, my editor, and he posed for the picture on the cover.”
    Aren’t great-selling books propelled by collaboration? Isn’t book success more like a symphony than a solo act?

    1. Which is more or less what I was trying to get across. When I self-published, I did it all by myself – editing, book cover… everything. And it showed. You can’t do it on your own, whether you decide to self-publish or not. You still need an editor, a designer, and a publicist. Minimum.

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